Financial and Moral Profit at the Base of the Pyramid

Global climate change is on the minds of many, but some of Earth’s inhabitants are noticing the change more quickly than others. This is because many people, particularly those living in developing countries, have traditionally close ties to the land, relying on natural resources every day for survival. As our environment continues to deteriorate, impoverished nations suffer exponentially, which increases the sense of urgency many sustainably minded folks have about finding solutions. Although initially difficult to comprehend the needs of those living half way around the world, there is real opportunity to market practical solutions to the base of the pyramid.

A recent blog post by marketing guru and author Seth Godin provides a reminder about the opportunities that exist to help the third of the world’s population which earn only $2.50 a day or less. Although most of the money earned by the world’s poor is spent on traditional items, like kerosene and rice, there is immense room for innovation. A lack of information and limited options equates to significant inefficiencies, for example the health effects of using kerosene or not having clean water to drink. According to Godin, “if a business can offer a better product…that is safer, cleaner, faster or otherwise improved, it has the ability to change the world.”

In the short documentary, “Double Bottom Line”, Alex Godin presents two social-enterprising companies out to change the world and make a profit while doing it: LifeSpring Hospitals and D. Light Design. LifeSpring provides quality maternity healthcare at a price lower than government hospitals. Infant mortality is high in India, with 57 deaths per thousand live births. LifeSpring is working to solve the problem by addressing healthcare needs in a sustainable way and at the ground level in villages and districts.

It is hard to imagine that 1.5 billion people have no access to electricity. D. Light Design, however, is providing the 1 in every 4 people around the world that don’t have safe, reliable light sources with low-cost, solar-powered lanterns. The gift of light is vital, it provides safety, security and an alternative to the traditional kerosene light source, which is highly flammable and potentially toxic.

SBA Hydro is another company bringing clean energy to India’s rural poor. More than 85% of people in India depend on dirty and unhealthy kerosene for lighting and firewood for cooking. SBA Hydro is selling clean energy products directly into India’s pyramid base with products including solar-based home electricity systems, lanterns, energy efficient cook stoves, decentralized electricity services generated from micro hydro and biomass gasifiers.

While we witness the impacts of climate change around the globe,  the long term forecast for Earth is increasingly depressing. Efforts like these provide hope. Climate-related changes will have a strong impact on the poor, who are already struggling to survive today. Solutions that embrace poverty relief, while at the same time mitigate climate change, can be profitable game-changers.

The answers to many of the world’s complex problems lie within the innovative minds of business. It is really a matter of identifying where the needs are.

Cory Vanderpool joined EnOcean Alliance as the Business Development Director for North America. Prior to this role, she was Executive Director of GreenLink Alliance, a non profit organization dedicated to promoting energy conservation in buildings and tax incentives for building owners. Before establishing GreenLink, Cory worked in business development supporting a government contracting firm focused on civilian and defense markets. In addition to her work at EnOcean, Cory is also pursuing her PhD in Environmental Policy at George Mason University and is a part-time contributing writer at Triple Pundit.

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